Elizabeth Hoover

We are merely the sum of our chemical impulses

—Don DeLillo


The chemical flames from the factory

smack their lips against your house.

You insist you are sober, but rock

your mind a lead bob scrapping the floor,

your body is an ear listening

to the humming tuning fork

held somewhere in its recesses,

in its industry, refugee dendrites hum low.


I have no business

trying to tear into your stupor

with biology textbooks,

formulas, facts—beasts

roaming algebraic storms

in my imagination.


In 1847 Alder Wright, an English chemist, synthesized

diacetylmorphine accidentally by treating

a base with acetic anhydride in an attempt

to find a cure for morphine addiction.

That is all I could find on him. Did he ever

learn what his medicine could do?

The math of it all—the improbability groaning

under its own weight. How could random chance

produce the brain, its rushing molecules,

a galaxy in its own right? And then give us the tools

with which to send it out of orbit?


I loved you—your bad grammar,

your broken paperbacks, your lank and ease.

Even now, in the sickly blue

intervals from the industrial plant,

I am struck by your body,

and I want to tell you

about the cascading signals

of the ear, the eye’s complications

and that I listen

to your ragged breathing,

an involuntary act that

nonetheless carries your signature.

I want to convince myself

you are not nodding but

swimming to some discovery

you will show me one day.


This is how I try to get to you

now that you no longer speak, placing you

in that timeline with Alder, cramming you

into fig. 1.4. after rapid intravenous injection

the user feels a warm flushing of the skin

and a unique orgasmic sensation in the lower

abdomen; this initial experience is known as

“the rush” but I believe in the soul

despite evidence to the contrary.

I believe it is of a high polished steel, singular

and seamless. It is followed by

a longer dream-like state known

as the “nod.” You hollowed yourself,

became an abandoned building. If only

we could rebuild the precious math of our industries.

If only we could rebuild with shinning girders

straight-laid paths, bright new concrete

not with words or metabolic work

but with charts and maps. Label them

until they are the sheen of examination tables.


You have finally dribbled off

still in the dark corner of the porch.

In a sudden blue flare I see your hands

open in your lap, stained heavenly

and deep-laid tarnish.

Elizabeth Hoover is a poet, critic, and journalist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her poetry has appeared in Plainsongs, Poetry Northwest, Massachusetts Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Folio, among others. She is currently working on a biography of Robert Hayden, and you can see more of her work at www.ehooverink.com